By Dr. Laurel Schwartz
Romance novels have been around since the 1700’s, with "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E.L. James, only the latest incarnation. Some early and well-known romance novels include, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen published in 1813; an historical romance, Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, 1820; and Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte published in 1847.
To be considered a romance novel, the book has to have several basic ingredients. First and foremost, the novel has to have a hero and heroine and focus on their romantic relationship. Characters are clearly delineated as either good or evil, with the former being rewarded and the latter being punished. Romance novels also must have a happy ending. In addition, modern romance novels are often sexually explicit. Nora Roberts, who has written over 200 romance novels states, "The books are about the celebration of falling in love and emotion and commitment, and all of those things we really want.”
So what is it that women really want and these books seem to offer? If you are a single woman, you may read romance novels as a way of fantasizing about what you hope will come true – an exciting romance with a happy ending. Married women (and perhaps some single women, too), may read romance novels as a way to get away from the mundane and predictable. Reading romance novels provide an opportunity to experience excitement and adventure. In addition, some women may be truly disappointed with their lives and cope by getting involved with a fantasy world.
By identifying with the heroine of a romance novel, you also meet your ideal self, or in other words, the woman you would like to be (not bothered by the demands of real life). You get to be daring, bold, do things you ordinarily wouldn’t do. You get the opportunity to be beautiful and never have a bad hair day or feel bloated. You get to have the perfect partner. Indeed, the hero in romance novels is often hyper masculine and always handsome. He is never too tired or preoccupied by work not to make the woman (of his dreams) a priority. He always desires her. Most importantly, in romance novels, no one is ever wearing those comfortable, but funky old bedroom slippers from Cosco that you should really throw out.
Through identifying with the heroine you are taken care of in every way – emotionally, financially and sexually. You are rescued and protected. In "Fifty Shades of Grey," the hero even picks out the heroine’s clothes (including her lingerie), which always fits perfectly! For women who are so busy taking care of others – spouses, children, elderly parents, a romance novel can be a welcome reprieve – even if it is only a fantasy.
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